But first - the context.
It is March of 2021, and I am quietly zipping up my camera bag, starting the coffee pot, and throwing on clothes in the dark. That could only mean one thing for me - a sunrise session. I am meeting a couple for the first time, its their honeymoon and they made the mistake of giving me full rein on their adventure session. So I have them meeting me at 5:30am at one of the islands tallest scenic waterfalls, Akaka Falls; the place my husband and I also call home. I arrive on location mentally prepared for this couple to be a bit late (they always are) but to my suprise, I see a set of Jeep Wrangler headlights approaching me right on the dot. Out hops Jessica and John, wearing matching outfits in my favorite color. I'm already sold on these two. We start the session and its giving epic notebook vibes, as they tell me about their life back home, and their plans for the future. I learn that they met in the military, and we bond as I tell them my husband is also a veteran.
Fast forward an hour later and I have them climbing banyan trees, popping champagne in the jungle, scaling below bridges and jumping into waterfall pools. At the end of our shoot, I sent them along my favorite scenic route that offers a bit of an off road adventure. Jessica hands me their payment and they head off on their way. I realized upon getting home that they had paid me double my rate, but they insisted it was not a mistake. This gesture was so kind and uncommon for me, that I suddenly realized I have finally found what the industry calls "Dream Clients".
I got to work right away, sent off their gallery a week later, and that was that....
... for now.
3ish months later..
I was scrolling through the gram, scheduling posts or whatever - when I receive a text from Jessica. The banner only gives me the preview of "Hey girl, how are you?" and I immediately think "Shit, is something wrong with their gallery? Did their prints turn out bad?" Thank you very much, - anxiety. Anyway, I click on the notification and am pleasantly surprised to read it is in fact not a complaint but the exact opposite. Jessica goes on to say that they have been stationed out in Germany, and just found out they were expecting, after their trip in Hawaii. They wanted to know if I would be willing to travel in December to shoot maternity photos for them!
Ummmm yes please. That was the easiest YES to a question in my life, outside of when my husband proposed. We immediately went over costs, travel and all the things and before I knew it, I was purchasing tickets to my first international gig - EEEEK.
My client was due for a january baby, which meant that I would be traveling around Europe the first week of December, and you can probably guess that this Hawaii girl had almost no winter clothes to speak of. But after scouring shops all over the island, I scored a wool petticoat, gloves, turtle necks in all the colors and a cute pair of black booties (more on those later.) This was going to be my first trip anywhere abroad by myself, which is scary enough without the looming threat of Covid, shut downs and to top it off, record breaking flooding the months leading up. I would be 100% lying to you if I said I didn't have at least one panic attack a week leading up to departure.
I was packed and ready to go like, two weeks before take-off (again, hello anxiety) and downloaded probably ten different apps to keep everything organized.
For those of you who are aspiring travel photographers or maybe planning your first trip alone - I will list my favorite apps that absolutely saved my ass a few times. at the bottom of the next blog!
Halloween passed, followed close by Thanksgiving, and by the end of November, I was boarding my plane on a long journey halfway around the world.
3 flights, and almost 24 hours of non stop travel, getting lost in LAX, running to my gates, barely eating and a million covid policies later - I stepped outside of Frankfurt airport. My first thought was "Holy Shit.." Followed with "Germany smells like cigarettes." and I've never been happier for some second hand smoke in my whole life, let me tell ya. I couldn't believe that I was actually, physically, there. SO far from my little rock in the middle of the ocean, so far from Cash, my family, and every single safety net I am used to having. Just like T-Swift said; you're on your own kid. .. This was the moment I took to remind myself that I am capable, I am a adult, and I have gone through every possible worst case scenario to prepare for this. People do this all the time....right?
Anyway, before long I see my clients weaving their way through traffic to pick me up. They quickly helped me with my bags and headed to my little hotel in Trier. Chatting about all they had learned from their time there, favorite things to do and their ideas for the days to follow.
First of all, if you didn't know, german roads are absolutely insanity; people going 150 mph, weaving around each-other, just pandamonium. Hawaii divers could NEVER.
Secondly, I loved seeing exit signs with castle signs on them every few miles and quickly picked up that the term for them is Burg.
I am staring out the window as we make our exit off the Idubauhn. The city is from the Roman empire, built with cobblestone, riddled with old churches, bakeries and quainte rivers twisting through the narrow streets. The trees are flashing their last bits of orange color before succumbing to the winter. At this point, its begun raining and the sun is beginning to set as we pull over to the hotels curb. I struggle my way up the stairs and through the lobby door with my bags and camera bag like a true blue American tourist, to greet an old gentleman at check-in. He didn't speak much English, and nor I, German. So you can imagine that was a fun exchange as we tried to communicate - I genuinely enjoyed the banter and he was very kind. Immediately I felt I had made a friend, and I was safe here. He shows me where to get breakfast, hands me a skeleton key with the number #7 on it, and points me to the elevator.
My room was small, equipped with two twin beds, pushed together, and some extra towels. Decorated with wooden side tables, coat closet, and a chair with a street facing oval window. I loved it. It didn't take long to get settled, set my alarm for early the next morning, and fall asleep to the rainfall outside with the brisk winter air sneaking in from the cracked window.
I woke up eager and excited at sunrise. Today's agenda was to shoot at a beautiful castle about an hour from my hotel - and I couldn't wait. Of course, I set my alarm an hour and a half early so I could get ready and eat beforehand, not realizing that nothing would be open yet. I pulled my green turtle neck over my head, zipped up my camera bag, threw on my long black petticoat and stepped out into the sleeping streets of Trier. I passed by school children waiting for their busses, a few joggers and workers on their way to their shifts, and followed the smell of fresh baked bread. I felt like I was a character in a Netflix drama set in another time. Probably a half mile or so down the road, I found it - a literal hole in the wall bakery just opening its doors with a healthy line already forming.
It had a display case with all the most delicious homemade breads lined up next to each other. Sugar coated pastries, little wrapped cookie bags and chocolate, savory meats and a cute old woman chatting with customers behind the counter. As I waited my turn, I quietly practiced my little German knowledge and tried to memorize the words for what I wanted to order as I read their names through the steamed up glass. I'm not sure of she could tell I was a visitor, but to my relief, once I got to the front of the line, she just greeted me like everyone else "Guten Morgen." to which I parroted back to her, before pointing casually to a baguette and a tomatoed pastry of some kind. She gladly fetched them for me, told me the amount and said "Chutsy" as I paid and left back to my room for free coffee. Mentally taking notes that "Cutsey... or maybe Juts'? Was a polite way to greet and leave a room - Like Aloha and Mahalo back home. got it.
Upon arriving to the location of the castle, Jessica and John begin putting on their matching outfits and helping their daughter put her shoes on - with great protest. We are there with only one other car and embark on a dirt path through tall pine trees, littered in a thick layer of orange and red leaves. It's definitely chilly today, so I try to keep up a quick pace to keep myself warmed up. Im telling yall - for a mama whos 8 months pregnant, my client was kicking my ass on this hike and its taking everything for me to conceal my breathe and keep up a conversation. The trail slowly gains elevation and the view changes to a birds eye view along a canyon, weaving in S turns and then we round a corner it hits you in all her glory: Eltz Castle
Nestled on a hilltop ahead, we took in the view of the pointed towers, drawbridge entrance, a real life castle with the likeliness of every fairytale you've seen.
The sun just beginning to peek through the mountains offering fleeting moments of warmth through the brisk overcast sky.
We post up near the entrance of the towers and I start snapping away as Jessica poses in her deep green, velvet maternity gown, sporting a fur shawl looking like a medieval queen. Her toddler is at her heels, giggling as she runs around and plays with her dad, who would scoop her up and make her shriek as he throws her up in his arms and catches her -just the picture perfect family. Our time was cut short by a sweeping cold rain, so we gathered our things and literally ran back to the car.
The next stop was a highlight of the trip for me,
A place I had been 14 years ago when my mother took us to meet our aunt in Berlin. I was 12 at that time.
We were headed to the Cologne Cathedral. If you don't know much about it - which I'm guessing is true for who is reading this; here's some facts about this Cathedral that make it so special. The building itself, took over 700 years from start to completion - from the 13th century to the 19th century. One of the most cherished treasures of the Cologne Cathedral is the relics of the Three Wise Men.
The shrine holds the bones of the three wise men from the bible, They were brought by pilgrims to Cologne in the middle ages. I have personally seen the relic during my first trip there, along with original drafts of the bible (they are massive btw), and the supposed thorns of Christs crown. It was one of few aspects of that entire trip burned into my memory. The Cathedral is designed as gothic architecture, from above it is shaped as a cross, and you can climb the 500 steps of the towers for a fantastic view above the city. The floors are intricate mosaic, delicately carved biblical scenes in stone, gargoyles and grand stainglass windows - absolutely every detail is breathtaking and impressive enough to get lost in. There is a heavy, ancient air about it thats palpable when you stand before its towering walls. Dwarfed by the sheer magnificence of her.
I get goosebumps every time I think about it, trying to memorize every detail as much as I can so I wont forget.
We made our way to one of few operating German Christmas markets located on the opposite end of the entrance to the cathedral. Lights strung around wooden A-frame booths, Christmas trees decorated and some propped up as mini forests, hot cocoa and wine and the smell of cinnamon spices flooding your senses as traditional music plays overhead. Germans do not mess around when it comes to the holidays, it was absolutely magical. Like straight out of Hogwarts Diagon Alley. We found ourselves at a booth serving drinks, I ordered what I thought was a nutmeg hot cocoa, and received instead, a themed cup filled with hot wine. That was a first for me, and Jessica told me you can keep the mugs or return them for a few euros, and every christmas market in Germany has their own collection design. So yeah, I was obviously keeping them. If your wondering how the wine was.... well its an acquired taste. But I wasn't mad at the warmth it offered me, so I could understand the popularity. I took in the moment, looking around at the shoppers, the looming gothic building, red and gold lights and stars twinkling through a light dusting of snow.
What the fuck? This is real? How did I deserve to experience this?
After making our rounds and finishing up some shopping, we began the drive back to Trier as once again, night fell upon the streets.
That night I'm pretty sure I went to sleep smiling. Recounting the day in disbelief at the realization that it was only day 1 of a two week stay. What more would be in store? The days to come would include a wild ride to Paris, a journey to Berlin, Shooting at a 1920s burlesque theater and so much more. But if I laid it all out here, this blog would be more like a novel - so I will leave you with this poem I wrote once I had a chance to gather my thoughts.
14 years since my feet stood before you.
14 years longing for this moment.
Where I was certain I couldn't be lucky enough to be again.
You are as familiar as a childhood street, yet as far away as a fairytale land.
I touch your walls, soaking up a piece of your ancient wisdom.
Bask in the glory of your majestic walls and tremendous stories.
I am humbled.
Cheers to you, to being home. - 12.02.2021